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We take great pride in providing a new and exciting opportunity for our dedicated tart cherry growers, whose yields enable us to produce premium products that are as delicious as they are nutritious. Our farmer-partners might be viewed as “specialty” growers, since the production of tart cherries differs in some respects from the way sweet cherries are raised and harvested.
Requiring about 1,000 “chill hours” below 45 degrees in winter, tart cherries are hardier in winter than the sweet varieties, which fare better in the western portion of the country and fast-draining soils. Based on climates and topography, Michigan and northwestern New York are fertile grounds for tart cherries – with both areas featuring hilly tracts of sandy soils, and the protection of their respective Great Lakes, which temper the climate and form a buffer against summer storms. Cheribundi’s key growers, whose association with our company ranges from five to seven years, are located in those regions.
Cheryl and Bern Kroupa’s orchards are in Traverse City, Michigan – which lays claim to being the “Cherry Capital of the World.” They believe the emergence of our products has “elevated the cherry juice category from a secondary use classification to a premium product positioning that growers can be proud of.” – adding that “we structure our harvest accordingly.” And for all commercial growers, that harvest, beginning in late July, reflects an intense window of both fulfillment and backbreaking work.
Sodus, New York grower Bob Debadts, a four-year Cheribundi supplier, explains that for most of the year, the growing and maintenance process is nothing out of the ordinary. But the harvest is another matter – “an intense two-to-three-week time, with seven days a week of 12-to-18-hour days to get an extremely perishable crop picked and processed.”
Cheribundi supplier Todd Foxx of Shelby, Michigan, whose farm produces both tart and sweet cherries, agrees. “Cherry growers are used to a fast-paced harvest season, as the window to harvest can be very short. The staff on our farm is used to putting in 16-hour days for two to three weeks each year.” To ensure each season’s success, he notes that the year-round maintenance of equipment is as vital as that of the typically 20-foot-tall trees themselves – in protecting them from the threatening ravages of insects, animals and disease. Todd explains that while the harvest process is itself mechanized, there are “many long days driving cherry-shakers and forklifts,” cooling the cherries and promptly delivering them to the processor.
Unlike sweet cherries, the “Montmorency” variety of tart cherry needs to be cooled immediately after picking, and processed for the market within a matter of days. “Montmorency cherries do not have the ability to be held and transported to a fresh market – as opposed to our sweet cherries, which can be harvested and stored for weeks and still be consumed fresh,” he explained.
But despite the challenges, Todd makes clear his love of both the life and the locale, as he helps tend the fourth generation family farm that has grown cherries commercially for more than 60 years – supplying Cheribundi for the past five. “Although the season is stressful and the hours are long, spending summertime in the Michigan outdoors is a good way to make a living … and get a great tan!”
We’re proud of the fact that, like the Kroupas and Bob DeBadts, Todd considers Cheribundi’s market impact and success a transforming factor in his business. “Cheribundi’s product growth is a tremendous positive for our industry, as it helped drive the demand for tart cherries in general, and specifically the awareness of their health benefits,” Todd says. “Consumers are recognizing the product as a healthy choice, whereas before, the cherry was mostly considered a dessert item. Additional uses and increased demand are positive forces in our industry, and give our family confidence that we will be raising cherries as a fifth-generation farm in the near future,” he said. Echoes Bob DeBadts, “Cheribundi has created a whole new business for our farm. It picked up a formerly shrinking industry, which is now showing some solid growth again.”
At Cheribundi, we value the appreciation of our growers as we value their products, and look forward to many more years of growing and cultivating our mutual success together.